The 5 best books for babies…

I love reading to Bea and whilst our evening routine doesn’t always involve a story at the moment we do read to her every day, if not several times. We have done this since she was tiny, when it was really more for us than for her, so this is a little list of the best books we found for the first 12 months and I’d love to hear if you have any to add for that specific period.

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes

“But the next baby born was truly divine, a sweet little child who was mine, all mine.”

My mum bought this for Bea when she was born, it is such a cute story and I loved reading it to her, in much the same way people enjoy ‘Guess how much I love you’.


One of my favourite books from childhood, I loved reading this to Bea for nostalgic reasons but it’s also one she can interact with by turning the (board) pages and I imagine will grow with her. We even ended up walking around when she’s tired or sad sing songing away, ‘Here’s a little baby one, two, three, carried in her mummy’s arms, what does she see…’ – and now it’s one of the staple gifts I buy for new babies.

That’s Not My Puppy

This was given to us by a friend with 2 kids who clearly knew what she was doing when she bought it! It became the first book that Bea really enjoyed and interacted with due to the touchy feely  panels on every page and with it’s sturdy board pages was also the book she learned to turn pages with herself. We now have Thats’s not my … Monkey, Owl, Kitten and Robot – just for a bit of non-stereotypical reading material 😉

I’d Know You Anywhere, My Love

There are things about you quite unlike any other. Things always known by your father or mother. So if you decide to be different one day, no worries…I’d know you anyway.

Totally schmaltzy in a way only a parent will appreciate 😉 this was the first book that I personally ever bought for Bea. We bought it in the US on holiday and as such it is by an American Author, and refers to some unusual animals like the ‘blue footed booby.’ The illustrations are beautiful and it’s just a story I really love reading to her. It also has side notes encouraging children to make the actions for certain animals that we leave out now but will be great later on. I always think of this one as ‘our’ book and it’s another great one for a gift as it’s not that common over here.

The Snail and the Whale

This is the tale of a tiny snail and a great big grey blue hump backed whale…

Overtaking The Gruffalo in our affections comes this Julia Donaldson book about a snail who hitches a ride sightseeing around the world on a whales tail. It has wonderful alliteration and is quite a tongue twister to read but I love books that sing song and rhyme as you read them so I enjoy it and it never fails to settle eea down as a result too. This is a good one for the parent to enjoy reading as much as the child – no matter the age and its long enough to wind down with before bed.

This is just a selection of our personal favourites and is by no means exhaustive. Which books are your favourites for under ones? 

Love, Rebecca


Reviewed: Modern Country

I’m a massive fan of interiors inspiration books and so I was happy to receive Modern Country for review recently. Normally I wouldn’t classify my style as ‘country’ at all, but if you feel the same definitely don’t let this put you off exploring this gorgeous collection of stunning homes.

I was really pleasantly surprised to find a collection of homes that ranged from eclectic to modern to rustic, salvage and industrial takes on relaxed country style.

It’s a perfect gift for those interiors lovers you may know and the publishers have arranged a special offer for you all…

Reader Offer:
To order Modern Country at the discounted price of £24.00 including p&p* (RRP: £30.00), telephone 01903 828503 or email and quote the offer code APG217.
*UK ONLY – Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.

It’s definitely worth a look! Have a great weekend readers!


Modern Country is published by Jacqui Small (@JacquiSmallPub)

Florence’s Book club

Welcome to another book club – it’s been a while since we have shared some good reads and I’ll be reading with particular interest today, particularly in the comments as I’m going away soon and could do with some holiday reading. 🙂 Thank you to Alexa and Victoria for providing the reviews this month and do let me know if you have any great reads we should be sharing soon – just send an email to me with a short review.

Longbourn by Jo Baker

My name is Victoria and I am a Pride and Prejudice addict. I’ve read the book countless times. I own the 90s BBC series on VHS, DVD and have it saved on my Sky+ for emergency Jane Austen watching. The recent Keira Knightley version continues to grow on me after a number of re-watches and I’ve also dabbled with the “sequels”, but remain largely disappointed. (As an aside, thoughts on Death at Pemberley this Christmas?)

So it’ll be no surprise that, while searching for some literary escapism on the shelves of my local bookstore, I was hooked by a quote on the back cover of Longbourn by Jo Baker:

“If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats,’ Sarah thought, ‘she would be more careful not to tramp through muddy fields.'”

This isn’t a sequel where we follow the characters in to the next step of their lives, although there is a little glimpse of life post Lizzie-Darcy nuptials. Nor is it a re-telling of the original from a different perspective, though we do see a lot of behind-the-scenes action around the key events of the original tale. It’s actually a parallel story about the servants at Longbourn, in particular Sarah the housemaid, and their lives, loves, worries, woes and the secrets they hide.

P&P fans should, however, read with caution. The author takes some liberties with one or two of our favourite characters with a shocking-ish plot twist or two (I guessed, not sure if I liked), we see very little of Darcy and Bingley and far too much of the dastardly Wickham and, be warned, as you follow Sarah’s story your love for Miss Lizzie may start to wane just a little.

My main criticism would be that there was a little bit too much back-story devoted to life outside of Longbourn for one particular character where I lost interest slightly but overall, for P&P fans I’d recommend this as a good light read.

– Victoria

Dominion – CJ Sansom

What if Churchill hadn’t become Prime Minister in 1940? Set in 1952, Dominion works on that idea and gives an alternative history of what could have happened if Britain had surrendered to Nazi Germany in 1940 and instead become, in essence, a Nazi satellite state. Within a few chapters of the book, Britain is a place where press, radio, speech and the streets are controlled by the state and subject to violent police and sometimes Gestapo rule and where there is an ever increasing move towards anti-Semitism.

The story focuses on David Fitzgerald, a disillusioned civil servant who becomes a spy for the resistance and is tasked with helping an old university friend escape a mental hospital with a secret that could change the balance of power all the while keeping his actions secret from his wife.

Interwoven with actual events and real people, it’s an incredibly thought provoking book about one of the many alternatives to what could have happened if Britain hadn’t continued the war effort. It’s part spy thriller, part love story, but also part what could have happened. Maybe it’s coming from a Jewish family, or some of the current rhetoric from certain political parties but it really made me think about undercurrents of thought that sit in society and can easily come to be accepted and mainstream beliefs.

The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

I’d recommend you start this book with a lot of tissues close by. And also probably some chocolate to hand. The Fault in our Stars tells the story of Hazel, a 16 year old cancer patient who attends a support group (somewhat unwillingly) and meets August Waters, a 17 year old amputee and ex basketball player.

It’s billed as a young adult book but I don’t think anyone would struggle to relate to the characters or the experiences through the book which although ultimately are a story about death, actually are more about life and living and taking chances. John Green writes beautifully and has a way of making you feel for all the characters from Hazel’s parents to Hazel and Augustus themselves, without making you feel pity. And don’t worry; some bits will make you laugh as well as cry.

– Alexa

Have you read anything good lately readers?


Decorate with Flowers: Reviewed

At this time of year as spring blooms come into stores I’m always looking to brighten up the house with fresh flowers. Add to that the instantaneous transforming effect they have on any space means I’m using them more than ever at the moment to improve some of our work-in-progress rooms. As a result I was delighted to be asked to review and share with you the new book by Holly Becker and Leslie Shewring, Decorate with Flowers.

Now, I am an absolute sucker for a coffee table book and this one is so pretty it is definitely deserving of the title. The photography is beautiful, the colours and the flowers are super pretty and the best thing about it is that the ideas are accessible.

There’s no stuffy flower arranging tutorial here, just loads of simple ideas for displaying fresh flowers in your home and inspiration for using many items you might already have as containers. It’s a fresh look at flowers.

Holly and Leslie have used the homes of some famous bloggers (like that of Victoria Smith of SFGirlbyBay shown above,) and some of the photography is studio shot, along with some simple DIY’s the help you make the most of your blooms.

I loved the book – every thing from the design and photography to the friendly accessible tone and easy to implement ideas. It’s definitely worth treating yourself to and would make a gorgeous Mothers Day gift too.

To order Decorate with Flowers at the discounted price of £16.00 including p&p* (RRP: £20.00), telephone 01903 828503 or email and quote the offer code APG109.

I hope you like it readers!


*UK ONLY – Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.

Decorate with Flowers by Holly Becker & Leslie Shewring, published by Jacqui Small @JacquiSmallPub

#JanuaryJoy: Read something new

This morning Gemma is taking the reins with one of my favourite posts of the month, sharing her recent reads and reviewing them for your pleasure. Don’t forget to tell us if you agree with her appraisals or if you can recommend something she has missed…

The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)

Tightly plotted, laugh out loud funny at times and with some of the most tightly written characters I’ve ever come across in detective fiction, The Cuckoo’s Calling is a treat of a book.  Especially good for those who are familiar with London, who’ll recognise places and people loosely yet distinctly referenced in her fictional locations.  About a private detective with the flat-out-fabulous name of Cormorant Strike who is hired by the brother of a famous model who’s just committed suicide (or has she?) The Cuckoo’s Calling has all the elements of a classic gumshoe detective story, but is somehow still incredibly fresh and engaging.  One of my favourites of 2013.

The Girl With All The Gifts – M R Carey

Now firstly, I have to declare my bias about this book.  I have recently changed jobs and now work in PR for Little, Brown, the publishers of The Girl With All The Gifts.  HOWEVER.  I didn’t have the job when I read this book, and I would still recommend every last thrilling page of this unique, moving novel.  Despite a strong sci-fi element which might put some FFers off, please take my word as an incurable book worm and give this book a go, if only for the strong female characters and moments of bleak but beautiful prose along with big questions about what makes us human.  (I could go on and on and ON about this but am erring on the side of ‘least said’, because there are a couple of big twists in this tale and I really don’t want to give them away.  But please leave a comment if you’d like to know more or if you’ve read it!)

The Last Letter from your Lover – JoJo Moyes

Me before you – an earlier Jojo Moyes title, had me in absolute floods. We’re talking ‘oh god where are the chocolate biscuits and oh my wasn’t mascara a mistake today’ floods, so I was looking forward to The Last Letter from your Lover.  Added to Moyes’ genuiune ability to make you feel for her characters was the fact that The Last Letter From Your Lover was set in two different time periods and I couldn’t stop reading it, especially when it became clear how the two different stories overlapped.  Did I love it as much as Me Before You?   Not quite.  But it’s still worth a read.  Here’s the online description:

When journalist Ellie looks through her newspaper’s archives for a story, she doesn’t think she’ll find anything of interest. Instead she discovers a letter from 1960, written by a man asking his lover to leave her husband – and Ellie is caught up in the intrigue of a past love affair. Despite, or perhaps because of her own romantic entanglements with a married man.

In 1960, Jennifer wakes up in hospital after a car accident. She can’t remember anything – her husband, her friends, who she used to be. And then, when she returns home, she uncovers a hidden letter, and begins to remember the lover she was willing to risk everything for.

The Emergence of Judy Taylor Angela Jackson

In a first for my reviews here at FF towers, I have a confession to make.  Despite the review in Grazia saying ‘The Emergence of Judy Taylor is a heart-wrenching yet dryly funny tale of relationships and second chances’, despite reading and hearing great things about this book, it, well, left me totally cold.  I found Angela Taylor’s prose hard to get into and I didn’t really like any of the characters.  The eponymous Judy Taylor has become dissatisfied with her life married to Oliver, living near her parents and brother, in the same English town she grew up in, and the novel charts her decision to leave it all behind to go and live in ‘vibrant Edinburgh’.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Edinburgh isn’t vibrant, (as I’m sure I’ve said many times, I flipping LOVE Scotland and Edinburgh is one of my favourite places.)  it’s just that for me, moving from a village to Edinburgh isn’t all that out of the ordinary, and there I think is the crux of my problem with this book.  At its core, it’s about a woman thinking ‘there’s got to be more to life’ but I think most people could imagine for themselves the situations Judy finds herself in in her new life, and I also found the storyline with Oliver afterwards quite unrealistic.

Mad About The Boy – Helen Fielding
In contrast to the review above – I wasn’t expecting to like the latest Bridget Jones outing as much as I did. The book has certainly had some less than positive feedback about, for example, its opening (Mark Darcy has been killed off) Bridget’s lifestyle (she’s now closer to fifty than thirty and a mum of two) and its plot arc (I’d heard: a bit cobbled together, rushed at the end, and predictable.) with the above in mind (some I agree with to an extent) I still found Mad About the Boy funny and sharp on the social commentary. I wasn’t the right generation for the first two Bridget books, and have found more in them in later re-reads now that I’m close to thirty, so in that respect I’m not qualified to say whether Mad About The Boy is an accurate portrayal of mid-life motherhood or not. If you’re expecting a literary, thought provoking read, I doubt Bridget Jones would be your first pick anyway. But for flashes of brilliance, like the pitfalls of making friends on Twitter, Helen Fielding is on form. My only gripe is, what happened to Shazza??

As always, let us know in the comments what you’re reading.  Anything that should be on my radar?

Love, Gemma C-S.

Christmas Gift Guide #6 – For book lovers

Today is our final gift guide, brought to you by Gemma who has rounded up some unexpected gifts for book lovers… I hope you all get your shopping finished this weekend if you haven’t already! x

1.       Kate Spade dictionary Ipad cover.  This is an excellent gift for two reasons: 1, it’s Kate Spade and therefore has serious fashion cred and a chic design, and 2, it makes it look like you’re reading the dictionary.  Plus, it’s a zip-around folio style so you can store papers and cards in it easily – great if your recipient is using an Ipad on the go or for work.  Plus, it’s pretty unisex which is always good.

2.       ‘Well Read’ T-shirt.  With a statement, Zoe Karssen-esque vibe without the high price point, the other thing that makes this tee so fab is that Every Well Read t-shirt purchase provides 4 new books for First Book, a non-profit organization that provides new books to schools and reading programs for low-income families. Having ordered a few Palmer Cash t-shirts in my time, I can tell you that they wash and wear well, too.

3.       Keeping a handwritten book journal is a lovely thing to do – yes, you can keep one online with, but there’s something satisfying in seeing handwritten entries.  I think a book journal makes a particularly good present for teenagers.

4.       The perfect present for Harry Potter lovers, coffee lovers, and those who love a good pun.

5.       I know, I know, Etsy is riddled with prints of quotes and literary posters.  But I do think that this one is one of the best and would make a great gift for a partner, or even for a Christmas wedding.

6.       These candles may actually be the best book lover present ever invented.  Organic  Booklover soy wax candles in book lover fragrances like ‘Oxford Library’, ‘Bookstore’, and the one that I’m desperate to buy – ‘Butterbeer’.  I also love the quirky design aesthetic – a great present for that cool friend who’s hard to buy for.

7.        Know someone bookish who’s expecting a baby? Or maybe they’re a child at heart? Either way, these postcards make for a gorgeous gift.  As well as being great for fans of retro design, I think they’d make a fabulous frieze in a nursery.

8.        Know someone who’s a big fan of dystopian fiction? Brighten up their January with this Folio Society tote bag – strong, sturdy and just the right size for a trip to the library and perfect for literary types.

Now you’ll probably have noticed straight away that there are no actual books on this list.  Never fear though, we have big plans for Florence’s Book Club to resume in the New Year – bigger and better than ever.  If you simply can’t wait for Christmas reading recommendations, or you need insider suggestions of a good book to get a friend for Christmas, leave your question in the comments and I’ll pop back through the day with suggestions.

Happy bookish Christmas,

love, Gemma C-S

ps, if you’re my husband and reading this, I’d like to remind you that I’ve been very good this year. 😉

PPS! Other Gift Guides…
For the hard to buy for (Rebecca’s list)
For Mums everywhere
Stocking Fillers
For Home lovers
For Mini-me’s

Florence’s Book Club

Florence’s Book Club is back! Hooray!
You might have noticed that BC this month has a slightly different format.  That’s because we’ve noticed that there seems to often be a lot of book chat on twitter when something really captures our imaginations, but sometimes not the same engagement on the blog. A good read is hard to find and can often be a really personal thing! That’s why we’re asking for your recommendations – just send them in to and I’ll round them up.

Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver

This book was given to me by a colleague who thought I might like it after I bestowed them with The Language of Flowers – a recent favourite of mine, so I was intrigued. Set in the farming bible belt of America, it focuses on the migration of the monarch butterflies who make their home on Dellarobia’s farm, thousands of miles north of their usual home in Mexico. Initially the story is a slow burner, setting the scene of the poverty and family dynamic Dellarobia is a part of. The butterflies attract attention at first from local church going miracle seekers, then from environmentalist and scientists. The second part of the book focuses on their arrival and work with the butterflies, which Dellarobia joins.

What struck me more than the characters was the over-riding theme of despair and hopelessness, both that the butterflies would survive their unusual surroundings, the significance of that situation with respect to global warming, and Dellarobia’s own limited life experience. As I write, I’m 150 pages from the end and still curious to see how it turns out.  – Rebecca

Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan

Kate Kerrigan is an author who has had a top spot on my Amazon wishlist for a while, and had even made it onto my bookshelf, but for one reason or another was overlooked every time I chose my next book. Eventually curiosity got the better of me and I decided that I wanted to step outside my comfort zone and read a brand new author. so Ellis Island was chosen as my next book to devour, and I am so glad that it was.

Ellis Island follows the story of Ellie and her childhood sweetheart John. When John is injured in the War of Independence, Ellie travels to America to earn the funds required to pay for an operation to allow John to walk again. When she arrives Ellie discovers that Jazz Age New York is not only a million miles away physically, the lifestyles are far removed as well.

When Ellie emigrates to America the story follows her journey and her experiences, but we continue to learn of John’s plight through his letters to Ellie.

Ellis Island is an evocative and powerful love story. In parts it actually physically warmed my heart, and at times it made it ache. I was utterly captivated by the story, I warmed to Ellie’s character instantly and hoped for her to triumph, in whatever way that might be.

Ellis Island is a story about finding your place in the world and who you are destined to share it with. I adored it, and I think you might too…

Emma – Aphrodites World

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters – A nostalgic story of a young Italian man falling in love with a wannabe Hollywood actress who appears at his small family hotel on the Cinque Terre coast, sent there by some reckless Hollywood actor/director. The books travels between 50’s Italy and today’s America as the Italian man tries to find his long lost American beauty. The book is funny, well written, bittersweet, a great read.

Push: A Novel by Sapphire – The book inspired the movie Precious. This is the story of teenager Precious Jones as she attends “special needs” English lessons to learn to read and write. Her story is nothing but abuse, neglect, violence and negativity. It is told in her own words in broken, mis-spelt English and reading the book is like having Precious sitting in front of you telling you her story. Very real, never patronizing, a real, inspiring book to which I think the film didn’t do justice at all.

A Night Without Armor: Poems by Jewel – poetry collection by the famous singer songwriter. This is not your high school poetry book by any means! contemporary, heartfelt, Jewel’s poems are a reflection on love, society, and growing up in Alaska.

Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed – real story of a young American woman goes on a trail on the Pacific Coast Trail as she grieves for the loss of her mom and tries to recover from a series of failed, broken relationships.

– Celine.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock – Matthew Quick
Those of you who know me or who’ve read Florence’s Book Club before will know that I am a bit obsessive when it comes to books, and also that I read a lot and often, so when a novel stands out for me, it REALLY stands out.  Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is the latest offering from Matthew Quick, who also wrote the critically acclaimed novel-turned-awesome-film-starring-Bradley-Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook.
Leonard Peacock made me cry as well as laugh out loud, which is a tall order.  And Mr C-S read it as well and enjoyed it, which is even more of a tall order (he tends to just re-read the books he likes, which is basically everything George Orwell ever wrote and the odd crime novel if it’s by a Scottish author.)
So, in a nutshell, Leonard Peacock is technically a YA novel and it’s about a teenager who, it’s safe to say, has a lot going on in his life and who is in desperate need of, well, something.  I could go on, but I won’t, I’m simply going to add in the blurb from the jacket which is what said to me ‘Gemma seriously read this book.’

Today is Leonard Peacock’s birthday. It is also the day he hides a gun in his backpack. Because today is the day he will kill his former best friend, and then himself, with his grandfather’s P-38 pistol.

But first, there are four people he wants to say goodbye to. Most of the time, Leonard believes he’s weird and sad but these friends have made him think that maybe he’s not. He wants to thank them, and say goodbye.

So readers, we hope you’ll find at least one title in here you’re keen to curl up with on a rainy afternoon.  We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments and hear more suggestions!



ps.  I am going to buy A Night Without Armor: Poems for my husband.  When we were first going out he’d never even heard of Jewel.  😉


Florence’s Book Club: September

Before Rachel went off on maternity leave from her book club contributions to Florence Finds, she sent me in a book club post for June. Somehow I completely over looked it and recently rediscovered it, so thought it was about time I got around to posting! (In case you didn’t know, Rachel has a beautiful baby girl called Alice Emmeline.)

The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield
In my memory I’d studied these short stories at school, however reading/rereading them I’m not so sure. I like short stories, a perfect accompaniment for holidays. This time however they weren’t read on holiday but on my newly acquired Kindle in preparation for the baby. They were perfect for middle of the night insomnia – some are very very short, each is gentle with thoughtful and sometimes quietly unsettling emotions lying under the surface. They are also free to download on Kindle.

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller
I must admit it was the title that drew me to this book. Set in Kenya (or Keen-ya as her mother pronounces it), Rhodesia, as was and ending up in Zambia with the odd short journey to Britain sandwiched in between. It is an autobiographical/biographical memoir of her mother, AKA Nicola Fuller of Central Africa, as she refers to herself. I learnt a lot about Rhodesia and although her parents are no way in poverty they have to work hard to earn a living from the land, and sometimes it is a precarious living. There are touching mother daughter conversations, mad mother daughter conversations and sad mother daughter conversations.

…with my first best friend, Stephen Foster.”
Mum smiles at the memory. “Stephen and I used to take turns pushing each other on his tricycle. We wore matching romper suits. We had tea parties. We went everywhere together, hand in hand.”
“Stephen was one of Zoe’s sons?” I guess.
Mum frowns. “No, no, no,” she says. “Stephen wasn’t her son. Stephen was her chimpanzee.”

It’s an entertaining, informative and enjoyable easy read. One to add to FF African Book club post and thought provoking for new mums or mothers-to-be.

Restoration by Rose Tremain
Rose Tremain is one of my favourite female authors, I always think one gets a good quality female read from her. This book is different, it felt quite masculine and in some places it was a slow read. Set in England after the Civil War with Charles II now on the throne it follows surgeon Robert Merival on his journey of being King’s favourite, and relishing all the pomp, glory and debauchery that gave, to being married off to the King’s favourite mistress of the time and being sent out of London. He becomes Lord of a manor, again relishing in the pomp, glory and debauchery until he is no longer in the king’s favour. He joins a Quaker friend at a mental hospital where he helps care for the patients, reuses his medical knowledge and falls in lust with one of the patients. He then returns to London just after the plague, survives the Great Fire of London, returns to practising medicine and is restored to the King’s favour. If this intrigues you but you’re not sure about reading it then there is always the 1995 film with a young Robert Downey Jr as Merival.

Have you read any wonderful books recently readers? I’d love to hear your recommendations as I could do with something to help me turn my brain off before sleep these days!


Summer Reading: Florence’s readers recommend…

In the absence of Rachel (whilst she is on maternity leave getting acquainted with her beautiful baby daughter Alice,) I thought it would be fun and fascinating to get some reading recommendations from you, the Florence Finds readership, for summer holiday reads. I asked followers on Twitter and Facebook to send in a short paragraph reviewing their favourite recent reads and I know I have made a subsequent purchase or two as a result – I hope you all find something you fancy too.

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

“The circus arrives without warning…..” This is how The Night Circus starts and within a couple of pages it reels you in and doesn’t let you go until the end. It’s actually quite difficult to write about without giving the story too much, but suffice to say I loved it. The entire book is woven around the circus, the amazing magical circus that’s quite unlike any other circus. But this is not where the story begins and there’s a parallel narrative about a challenge that underpins the circus it’s self and this is what drives the story forward, until it all collides together. It’s so beautifully written, so descriptive and evocative you feel like you live in that world and know the characters, as if you might bump into them on the street. Or wake up one morning to see the circus in your local park. One of aspects of the story I most enjoyed is that it’s not light and fanciful. It’s imaginative, full of magic and vivid descriptions but there’s a tangible darkness to the story and it’s not afraid to be quite bittersweet at times, which makes the story feel far more real than it might have otherwise done. I was lucky enough to be given this book by someone and I’m so grateful that she did, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone.

– Reviewed by Zan @foxysynt

The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes

I heard about this book on Twitter – it was recommended with the caveat that it is quite difficult to read in parts. It’s a thriller set in Chicago where a serial killer – a misfit called Harper Curtis – somehow gets access to a house that allows him to travel around in time, from the 1920s to the early 1990s. He hunts out his ‘Shining Girls’ – women who have a spark – at different points in their lives and eventually kills them. Except for one victim, who escapes him and becomes determined to track Harper down. The book’s chronology (necessarily) jumps around quite a lot – apart from the subject matter it actually reminded me of The Time Traveller’s Wife in that respect – so particularly in the beginning you need to concentrate. The story is really well written and tense, despite the different timelines. As soon as I finished it I wanted to go back and read it again as I’m sure there were clues and details I missed the first time round. Some of the violent scenes are hard to read (the author has said that she wanted them to be so because murder shouldn’t be something that is easy to read about) but even with that in mind I would really recommend this as a well written thriller – the time travel doesn’t detract from the story and actually gives it an extra layer of tension.

– Reviewed by Katy W @KatyWells1

The White Princess – Phillipa Gregory

For those that haven’t been watching Phillipa Gregory’s Sunday night drama, The White Queen, what have you been doing? The books, although you can read them independently, form part of a mini series covering different periods of history. The most recent series, the Cousin’s Wars, covers the period during the War of the Roses. The author tends to view the period through another, lesser known, female character, adding a twist to contradict popular opinion. The first book, The Lady of the Rivers, is followed by a three way version of events covering the Red Queen, Margaret Beaufort, the White Queen, Elizabeth Woodville and the Kingmakers daughter, Anne Neville.

The latest book (although you should read the whole series because they are awesome) is The White Princess, which follows Princess Elizabeth of York (it seems that there are a lot of Elizabeths), daughter of Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen. The end of the White Queen sees Elizabeth’s lover, Richard III die by the hand of Henry Tudor, whom she then marries, thereby uniting the houses of York and Lancaster in a union brought about by the respective mothers’ Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth Woodville. Elizabeth’s brothers’ Princes Edward and Richard were supposedly taken to the tower and killed on the order of either Richard III, her former lover, or the Red Queen – also our Princess’ mother in law, Margaret Beaufort (my money is on the pushy mother in law). The story focuses on the idea that the White Queen (who I like less and less on the BBC One drama as we go on – also pushy,) smuggled out the younger son, Richard, to be raised in Flanders, keeping him waiting for the day he will come back and reclaim his throne from the pretender, Henry VII and his wife who is, you’ll remember, our White Princess. Will Elizabeth choose to protect her Tudor childrens’ inheritance, or remain true to the House of York and the true claimant to the throne?

This is perfect for holidays because its not intellectual in the slightest (once you get your head around all of the Elizabeths,) but is more substantive than the usual genre of chick lit. Go Forth and Buy it Now.

– Reviewed by Becca @BeccanotTBTMMO

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson
I think Kate Atkinson is my favourite author of all time and her latest release, Life After Life, is my new favourite book, replacing her earlier book Behind the Scenes at the Museum. It’s hard to review Kate Atkinson’s work as she’s such an amazing writer and her books are often so peculiar, but amazing, that it’s hard to do it justice, but I’ll try:

If you’ve read her stuff before you’ll be familiar with the idea of a quirky story that requires you to leave, let’s call it “reality” behind. Ursula lives her liver over and over again, from 1910 until the late sixties, meeting various untimely ends along the way. In each updated version of her life, minor adjustments are made here and there until we end up face to face with a key figure in modern history. With the opportunity to change the world and its future, not to mention her own fate, I was sucked in to Ursula’s home, her family and her journey over and over again and hungry to know more. From the first page you know exactly where we were headed but what’s exciting is to see how we get there and more importantly how, and if, we can move on from there.

I loved this book not just because it displays Atkinson’s sparkling, witty and unique writing style, or because of the delicious oddity of her stories, but also because it’s set against a period of history that we know well and it so really made me think. It spurred me to speak at length with my brother (a passionate amateur historian) my father (an avid reader of New Scientist) and spend hours reading about modern history and scientific theorems. It’s not often I find books funny, touching, gripping, philosophical and perhaps even a little scientific all in one.

– Reviewed by Victoria – Sugar Plum Slipper

Thank you so much to Zan, Katy, Becca and Victoria for sending in their reviews. Now it’s over to you guys, do you agree with them or do you have another book you can recommend?

Don’t forget, if you would like to contribute to a future round up of fab reads, just send in a short paragraph or two to

Happy reading folks!


Florence’s Book Club: The African edition

Since reading Captain Corelli’s Mandolin whilst backpacking the Greek Islands as a student, the impact of reading a book centred upon your immediate surroundings has not escaped me, so I chose my reading material for South African carefully. The Elephant Whisperer was recommended by Robyn in the comments after this post, and I randomly picked up another book about wildlife and conservation in Africa, coincidentally about Elephants too albeit this time in Kenya, called An African Love Story. I would recommend them both, so I thought they would make good holiday reading for you guys and I’d love to hear any you would add to my list – my thirst for books about Africa hasn’t been quenched, or perhaps other reads you can suggest that are evocative of a particular place.

The Elephant Whisperer
Set on a Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape, Thula Thula, this is the memoir of the reserve owner who took on a herd of 7 delinquent elephants who would have otherwise been killed. They had a reputation as escape artists and trouble makers and the extraordinary lengths he goes to to develop a bond with them and communicate form the backbone of the awe-inspiring book. It’s not just about the Elephants though, as he recounts stories of his staff, Zulu culture, tribal justice, and the challenges and rewards he faces and gains as Thula Thula blossoms. I can’t in my memory remember crying at a book before yet this one reduced me to tears twice in quick succession, so involved was I in the story and individuals, human and animals alike. I’m now curious to read his second book Babylon’s Ark, about his 6 month trip to Iraq during the Iraq war to look after the animals of the Bagdad Zoo who suffered as a result of the conflict, and a third about his quest to save The Last Rhinos.

I had barely got back to the house when the phone rang. A woman introduced herself: Marion Garaï from the Elephant Managers and Owners Association (EMOA), a private organization comprised of several elephant owners in South Africa that takes an interest in elephant welfare. I had heard of them and the good work they did for elephant conservation before, but as I was not an elephant owner, I had never dealt with them directly.

Her warm voice instantly inspired empathy.

She got straight to the point. She had heard about Thula Thula and the variety of magnificent indigenous Zululand wildlife that we had. She said she had also heard of how we were working closely with the local population in fostering conservation awareness and wondered . . . would I be interested in adopting a herd of elephant? The good news, she continued before I could answer, was that I would get them for free, barring capture and transportation costs.

You could have knocked me over with a blade of grass. Elephant? The worlds largest mammal? And they wanted to give me a whole herd? For a moment I thought it was a hoax. I mean how often do you get phoned out of the blue asking if you want a herd of tuskers?

But Marion was serious.

OK, I asked; what was the bad news?

Well, said Marion. There was a problem. The elephants were considered ‘troublesome. They had a tendency to break out of reserves and the owners wanted to get rid of them fast. If we didn’t take them, they would be put down – shot. All of them.

‘What do you mean by troublesome?

‘The matriarch is an amazing escape artist and has worked out how to break through electric fences. She just twists the wire around her tusks until it snaps or takes the pain and smashes through. Its unbelievable. The owners have had enough and now asked if EMOA can sort something out.

I momentarily pictured a five-ton beast deliberately enduring the agonizing shock of 8,000 volts stabbing through her body. That took determination.

‘Also, Lawrence, there are babies involved.

‘Why me?

Marion sensed my trepidation. This was an extremely unusual request.

‘Ive heard you have a way with animals, she continued. ‘I reckon Thula Thula’s right for them. You’re right for them. Or maybe they’re right for you.

That floored me. If anything, we were exactly ‘not right for a herd of elephant. I was only just getting the reserve operational and, as the previous day had spectacularly proved, having huge problems with highly organized poachers.

I was about to say ‘no’ when something held me back. I have always loved elephants. Not only are they the largest and noblest land creatures on this planet, but they symbolize all that is majestic about Africa. And here, unexpectedly, I was being offered my own herd and a chance to help. Would I ever get an opportunity like this again?

‘Where are they from?

‘A reserve in Mpumalanga.

Mpumalanga is the north-eastern province of South Africa where most of the countrys game reserves – including the Kruger National Park – are situated.

‘How many?

‘Nine – three adult females, three youngsters, of which one was male, an adolescent bull, and two babies. It’s a beautiful family. The matriarch has a gorgeous baby daughter. The young bull, her son, is fifteen years old and an absolutely superb specimen.

‘They must be a big problem. Nobody just gives away elephants.

‘As I said, the matriarch keeps breaking out. Not only does she snap electric wires, shes also learnt how to unlatch gates with her tusks and the owners aren’t too keen about jumbos wandering into the guest camps. If you don’t take them, they will be shot. Certainly the adults will be.

I went quiet, trying to unravel all this in my head. The opportunity was great, but so was the risk.

What about the poachers – would the promise of ivory bring even more of them out of the woodwork? What about having to electrify my entire reserve to keep these giant pachyderms in when I could barely keep thieves with high-velocity rifles out? What about having to build an enclosure to quarantine them while they got used to their new home? Where would I find the funds . . . the resources?

Also Marion didn’t shy away from saying they were ‘troublesome’. But what did that really mean? Were they just escape artists? Or was this a genuine rogue herd, too dangerous and filled with hatred of humans to keep on a game reserve in a populated area?

However, here was a herd in trouble. Despite the risks, I knew what I had to do.

‘Hell yes, I replied. ‘Ill take them.’

– Extract From The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence

An African Love Story: Love, Life and Elephants
Another memoir by the world famous conservationist Daphne Sheldrick, this book along side her stories of the elephants gives a glimpse into life in Africa. A 4th generation settler from Scottish stock, Daphne grew up in the bush and devoted her life to animals. She describes her knowledge of her Great Grandfather taking up the offer of land in Kenya after initially settling in the Eastern Cape from Scotland in the early 1900’s, then her childhood in East Africa, the love story of her marriage to another famous conservationist, David, and her love of the wildlife she fought so hard to protect and conserve. I loved how insightful and evocative this book was about African life for the settlers during colonial times and beyond.

So readers, have you read either of these? Are you planning a trip and want to whet your appetite or have you got some recommendations for me? I’d love to hear of any books that you think are particularly suited to a time or place.


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